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Things to Do: Dive into history while taking a tour of the Michigan Capitol

Capitol Tours
Posted at 1:53 PM, Mar 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-31 09:36:28-04

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan is full of history, and a great way to learn about some of it is at the state Capitol where they give free tours.

The Heritage Hall entrance off of Ottawa Street is an entry way to Michigan's history.

"The Welcome Center for the Capitol," said Matthew VanAcker, director of the Capitol Tour, Education and Information Service. "This is this building is a real treasure."

Sometimes you'll find VanAcker giving a tour, and he is no stranger to the building.

"30 years I've worked in the Capitol," VanAcker said. "I got my degree from MSU in history education and started working here shortly after it not really anticipating that I'd make a career out of it. But I just fell in love with the building."

He fell in love with the building and also teaching people while giving Michigan Capitol tours.

"It's more than a tour. It's, you know, instructing students, educating students and visitors about Capitol history, Michigan history, Lansing history, legislative process, how bills become laws, so we consider ourselves all as educators," VanAcker said.

Capitol Tours
Capitol Tours

VanAcker says the Capitol opened in 1879 and says the tours have been around for quite some time.

"We've actually found documentation of some of what they call the borders or the security would have been the security guards back then giving impromptu tours of the building. So really, right from the start," VanAcker said.

Tours start out in one of the orientation rooms with some basic history.

Capitol Tours
Capitol Tours

"This is actually our third Capitol. So we talk about the previous two Capitols in Detroit and Lansing and go over some rules for our younger visitors, especially what's kind of going to be expected of them as we spend the next hour taking them up through the building," VanAcker said.

He says pre-COVID they would give tours to about 100,00 people on average.

"Honestly, the bulk of them, probably about three quarters of it, is our third and fourth graders," VanAcker said.

Once you leave the orientation room, you'll go down a ramp full of history, up the stairs and the first big stop is the rotunda where you can look up and see the dome.

"Kids get into the rotunda, and we'll actually have them lay on their backs on our glass floor," VanAcker said.

The experience is amazing, and the view is beyond beautiful.

Occasionally on the tour, you'll actually get to meet with legislators.

Capitol Tours
Capitol Tours

"They're going to maybe see some of the legislative session. I just think it's such an essential thing for really not just third and fourth graders, but for everyone in Michigan to to experience," VanAcker said.

So what are you waiting for? Just show up. Tours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on the hour.

"Sometimes when we have school groups, you may be tagging along with a previous scheduled school tour," VanAcker said. "We'd love to have you come visit."

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Meet Tianna Jenkins

Tianna Jenkins

12:23 PM, Jan 12, 2021

Senior Multimedia Journalist